Wireless hotspots that can deliver hundreds of megabits per second in real-world bandwidth will become more common as operators increase their investments in Wi-Fi networks.
Not much has been announced, but a range of fixed, cable and mobile operators have already started or are planning upgrades to 802.11ac, the fastest Wi-Fi technology yet, according to market research company IHS. By this time next year a noticeable number of hotspots will use it, said research director Richard Webb, who is currently conducting a survey to pinpoint operator plans. Overall operator spending on Wi-Fi networks in 2015 is expected to increase by 88 percent year-on-year.
Networks based on 802.11ac are faster thanks to features such as MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) and beamforming. The former uses multiple antennas at the same time to increase data speeds, while beamforming aims the signal at the user to improve performance.
British Telecom and Boingo Wireless have already started to upgrade. There is a drive towards 802.11ac as public venues upgrade and get more serious about the role of Wi-Fi in their networks, according to Boingo. It has upgraded hotspots at airports, while BT has focused on hotels. For example, London hotels Every Piccadilly and Amba Charing Cross offer expected speeds of 196Mbps and 175Mbps using BT technology, according to Hotelwifitest.com.
The actual speeds that users get depend on a number of factors, including distance to the access point, the number of users on the network, and the number of antennas in their smartphone, tablet or laptop.